A friend of mine recently directed me to a movie on Netflix streaming. Ben Stein put it together and it’s called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”. It’s a smartly parsed lie. Here’s the email I sent back to my friend. Thought you might like to read it. I’d advise watching the movie first, though. It’s fun. You’ll probably love it and hate it at the same time, just like I did.
I saw that Ben Stein thing. I have to admit that it was an illuminating exploration of how intimations of giving ID even the smallest credibility ruined careers.
There are several problems with his general line of thinking in putting the movie together, though. I’ve delineated them in this email for you if you’d like to hear the counter-perspective.
If you don’t feel like reading this email, I’ll understand. It’s long and boring. The thing is, that’s what Ben is counting on – that the casual viewer of his movie won’t go to the trouble of acquiring the information I’m sending you in this email. That’s the power of his oversimplification; it’s too easy to digest.
Problem 1: Ben’s Purposeful (and Hypocritical) Distortion of Current Panspermia Theories
Ben attributed panspermia to aliens “seeding” the planet with blue-green algae and then implied that the idea was stupid. He later went on to pose the idea that there is a nonzero probability that a “designer” may have had something to do with the complex structure of the cell coming together. That means aliens did it (God technically being an alien, if that’s what he meant to imply, and if he meant to imply “God or aliens did it”, then he was implying aliens could have done it by default). Thus, he panned his own idea before he even brought it up. That’s just poor argumentation and bad filmmaking to boot.
Panspermia doesn’t require that aliens “seed” the planet. It’s been conclusively proven that bacterial life has the ability to survive the deep freeze of space and then be reanimated when conditions for life are better. The seeded bacteria easily could have been buried in comets that came about as a result of another world of water being destroyed hundreds of millions of years before our star formed. The only way we’ll be able to test this hypothesis is to get to the Kuiper belt (out by Neptune and Pluto – about 3 – 6 billion miles from here), and possibly the Oort Cloud (a cloud of trillions of icy bodies between 0.5 and 1.5 light years away from and surrounding the sun), and crack open a few thousand ice balls until we find bacteria inside.
If panspermia is a credible theory, we’ll still have to figure out how all those pieces came together in the first place. Did some sort of energetic or silicon-based life form create the blue-green algae cell for its own purposes on some other ancient planet that was destroyed in a supernova? If so, how did that weird, super-intelligent form of life pop into being? No clue. Did abiogenesis happen on that ancient planet? Shrug. Even if panspermia pans out, we will most likely never know.
I’ll posit my own theory here as to why blue-green algae may have been fabricated on some ancient planet. One thing that blue-green algae are particularly good at is trapping atmospheric carbon in salt water. It was so good at doing so that it was able to trap almost all atmospheric CO2 on Earth over the period of about three billion years that was created during the tumultuous heat dissipation process. That is a fuckload of CO2. In doing so, it also oxygenated the entire ocean and, by default, our atmosphere (photosynthesis makes sugar and oxygen out of CO2, some very basic nutrients, and sunlight). If it were created by some underwater intelligence on an ancient planet, that may have been why.
In fact, the bacteria were so good at their job that about 700 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels dropped so drastically that the temperature of Earth plummeted in a runaway anti-greenhouse effect. The entire planet was enveloped in a tremendous ice sheet (think Hoth from “Star Wars”). Only a small number of blue-green algae colonies survived on sunlight peeking through ice sheets at the equator. It took about 50-75 million years for enough atmospheric CO2 to build up again (from volcanoes) to melt that sheet and create a version of the Earth that is similar to what we live in today. That was the beginning of multicellular life as we know it and what we called the “Precambrian era.” It was followed by the Cambrian explosion about 100 million years later when most phyla we know today popped into existence.
In essence, blue-green algae terraformed our atmosphere and oceans, making them habitable for the life that proceeded them.
Problem 2: Ben’s Purposeful Distortion of Abiogenesis Probabilities
Abiogenesis, the idea that he was primarily attacking using his slot machine analogy, is a much more complicated and multi-step process than he alluded to in the film. The current theories do not have a cell magically popping into existence out of a bunch of precursor chemicals. That would just be outright fucktardery. It has been proven pretty conclusively that ancient Earth conditions could pretty easily have created the set of chiral chemicals and cell structures individually and that they may have somehow coalesced over time. Several hundred million years is a long time for stuff to happen and the surface of the Earth is a gigantic place in comparison to the size of bacteria. Ben’s slot machines would have been pulled over and over again, literally trillions of trillions of times. Current abiogenesis theory cuts that set of 250 slot machines into several sets of one to two dozen, thus increasing the probability that abiogenesis could have happened by about 10 orders of magnitude over his purposely overly-simplistic 250 slot machine analogy.
We also have to recognize that Mars and Venus were viable places for life to begin and that planetary bombardment may have sent bacteria into space that could have landed on Earth, and vice versa. In fact, some cell precursors could have been made on either planet and could have traveled back and forth due to the large amount of planetary bombardment early in the formation of the solar system. Hence, the surface area on which this stuff could have happened is about two-and-a-half times larger than he gave credit for in the film. Furthermore, solar system formation is turning out to be even more tumultuous than we originally thought, meaning that there could have been one or two more Venus or Mars-like objects floating around in the solar system for hundreds of millions of years before they were ejected by Jupiter or some other gravitational event we don’t yet understand.
The idea of other large bodies being in the solar system and then being ejected is not as far-fetched as you might think. It has recently been pretty much proven that the reason Earth is so heavy in comparison to Mars and Venus is that an object that was similar to Mars slammed into Earth tangentially about four billion years ago, dumping most of its metallic core into the primordial Earth and flinging the leavings of the collision into orbit. These leavings coalesced into our moon. If you average the density of the moon and the Earth, you come pretty close to the density-to-size ratios of Mars and Venus. If you’d like to read more about this particular collision, look up the “Orpheus Impact” theory of moon formation.
Problem 3: Dawkins Was a Monumental Fucking Idiot during His Ben Stein Interview
Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist first, a philosopher second, and a mathematician third (or perhaps tenth – it’s not clear what his math skills are). Ben knew Dawkins’ math deficit and took full advantage of it. Where Richard obviously failed was in the understanding of the mathematics behind the null hypothesis and its relation to the God concept.
The null hypothesis is the most basic statistical science concept there is. I’m shocked they don’t teach it to third-graders today. That’s how easy it is to understand.
Simply put, if you want to set out to prove that something exists, you don’t start off by assuming that it exists and then try to prove yourself right. That would be complete fucking scientific ass-backwardness. You’d never get anywhere.
You start off by assuming that it doesn’t exist, and then you try to prove yourself wrong through accumulation of fact. If you can’t prove yourself wrong, then you have to stick to the premise that what you’re looking for doesn’t exist until you can prove yourself wrong.
When Ben asked Dawkins what probability he assigned to the nonexistence of God, Dawkins said “99%”. I couldn’t believe it when Dawkins fell for that. What a fucking nimrod. Of course, Ben went in for the kill at that point, asking “why not 49%?” Ben’s logic there is indisputable. If you’re going to assign a probability to something with no mathematical backup for it, then your probability could be anything.
What Dawkins’ answer should have been was “That probability doesn’t exist mathematically. It can’t. Until someone comes up with facts that can assign a probability to it, we have to assume that the answer to your question doesn’t exist. That’s the whole point of atheism. If you have no facts to back up your assertion that some sort of deity exists, then you have to assume that the assertion has no proof attached to it, and thus, a probability of DNE (Does Not Exist – you may recognize this nomenclature from algebra – it’s a completely valid answer to any number of mathematical problems) is the only appropriate mathematical designation you can assign to it.”
Dawkins is an effete snob. He’s smug. He’s a dick. He’s obviously bad at math. This constellation of personality attributes, however, doesn’t make him wrong.
Problem 4: Ben’s Characterization of Intelligent Design Advocates As a Largely Heterogeneous Group Is Patently Deceitful
ID advocates are creationism advocates; there is no separation. I don’t even like using the terminology “Intelligent Design” as the term itself was designed to insult my intelligence. However, let’s, for now, put aside my scientific prejudices and look at the facts behind the creationism movement.
In the movie, Ben tried to characterize members of the Discovery Institute as a blend of people with different philosophies – as a salad bowl of faiths and non-faiths. While the peons may have slightly different backgrounds (and I’m sure there is a token agnostic there to be paraded about like the one black guy who showed up at the Republican National Convention, probably because he knew he’d be on TV), the leaders of the movement do not. The leaders are all devout Christians.
There is a Discovery Institute publication called “The Wedge Document”. Look it up. Read it. If it doesn’t scare you, it should; it’s terrifying. It’s the Discovery Institute’s manifesto. Everyone there is attempting to become part of the wedge. Make no mistake; they are monolithic in their efforts.
If you read it, you will have no choice but to agree with me that it is not a scientific document. It is a political document. Now, why on Earth would the manifesto of a scientific organization be political? I’ll tell you why. It wasn’t written by scientists. It was obviously written by evangelical Christians who are attempting to put their version of creation into a scientific curriculum. The fact that they’re doing so before any field research is even done on the topic should tell you everything you need to know about the Discovery Institute.
They are not scientists.
They are missionaries, one and all.
Problem 5: Nazis?!? What the FUCK, Ben?!?!?
I won’t even speak to the connection Ben made between Darwinian theory and Nazism. To do so would just be irresponsible.
Thanks for recommending the movie to me. I loved it and hated it at the same time. Leave it to the religious to create a work of art like that. Just keep in mind that Ben’s movie was not really meant to inform. It was meant to make you feel, and he definitely succeeded in doing so.
Talk to you soon.